The New Jersey Devils kept both their general winning streak and the road winning streak alive with a very surprising comeback win in Ottawa tonight. After going down 2-0 in the first half of the game, the New Jersey Devils scored on their next three power plays to turn the score 3-2 and held off the Ottawa Senators with aplomb to win. The NHL.com recap along with the full box score and additional starts are up and live.
I swear I'm not making this up. The New Jersey Devils that we all know and love scored three power play goals. Against one of the best penalty killing teams in the league in the Ottawa Senators. On the road. After doing absolutely miserable on the the first three power plays the Senators allowed. Until Peter Regin's hooking call in the second period, you could argue the Senators could stop the Devils dead just by forcing them to take power plays. They weren't setting anything up, any shots taken were missed, passes were ill-advised, and the aggressive Ottawa penalty killers jumped at every chance to go forward if only to kill more clock and put on more pressure.
And then the Devils finally not only set themselves up in Ottawa's zone, they got shots on net. They made passes around the zone. They got pucks on Pascal Leclaire and got rebounds and then Zach Parise finally gave the Devils a jolt with a goal on one of those rebounds past a stickless-Leclaire. I highlight this here because it was the true turning point of the game.
Up until then, the game was not at all pretty. Yet, from then on, the Devils went from strength to strength as Ottawa's discipline inexplicably kept taking calls in the third period. And the Devils power play, of all units, actually burned a team. Read on for what lessons should be learned from the game, as well as some video from NHL.com. Read Silver Seven later on to see what a Senators-based perspective of tonight's game would look like. I can't imagine it'll be positive.
The first big lesson is that one should never count out of the Devils on the road. For the first 35 minutes of the game, while the Devils may have outshot Ottawa, it was clear that the Senators were the better team. All four of their lines loved to forecheck, loved to hustle, and gave the Devils problems. In the first period, the best chance the Devils had was an early play off the rush where Dainius Zubrus hit the post. Yet, Ottawa kept swarming and eventually, they caught the Devils' skaters a step behind near the 14 minute mark in the first. Martin Brodeur was brave on the first three shots, but a screen and a lost stick was all Milan Michalek needed to open up the scoring. While the Devils didn't give up another that period, the Senators looked poised and great at winning back possession. On the other hand, the Devils looked like a team that loved not getting clean shots (19 blocked shots and 10 missed shots in total) on Pascal Leclaire.
And while the Senators conceded two near-consecutive power plays in the second period, the Senators penalty killers prevented the Devils from doing anything and so the Devils started to look out of sorts. Not much from the power play, not much on even strength, and even Martin Brodeur let in a heart breaker in the second. Brian Lee just threw a glancing shot from long range that Brodeur's left pad got. Only the shot was hard enough and spun the right way to slide underneath and get over the goal line before Marty's glove could throw it out. A bad goal given up and the Devils had very little to show in response. I was starting to feel gloomy about the game's prospects and why not? Pascal Leclaire was solid, the Senators' defense was as stingy as I learned from Peter R of Silver Seven, and the Senators just kept forechecking and pushing up as much as possible. Nothing wrong with 7-1-0 on the road, right?
And then that power play happened in the second period and the Devils got a much-needed spark. The game became a game again. Devils' spirits were lifted. Confidence grew into the team. Brodeur made saves like the Lee goal never happened. The defense started asserting itself more often. And Ottawa kept feeding the Devils' spark more and more electricity in the third.
After an incredibly dumb elbow thrown by Brad Winchester into Colin White's chest; the Devils were able to equalize in the third thanks to David Clarkson throwing a low shot at a sharp angle that could have threaded needles. The Devils began to skate with more energy from then on and then Ottawa gave another gift when Chris Campoli threw the puck over the glass in his own zone. The response? How about a wrister from Andy Greene? It was pretty and it was too bad Leclaire never saw it, though that's how it really became a goal. Great release by Greene, who has worked so hard in his own end (27:27 tonight) in the past week or so; he has earned a game winning goal to go along with his game preserving defense.
The Devils have seemingly always found a way to win on the road whenever they get behind early and tonight, it was the Devils' power play units actually answered the call. After being so awful for the first three man advantages, the second three were meaningful and important. I just can't get over that the Devils scored three power play goals in one game and that ultimately decided the game. Ottawa played with fire, and the Devils actually burnt them for it. Amazing. Here's the game's highlights from NHL.com so you can see it all for yourselves:
The second big lesson from tonight's game is that constantly giving power plays to any one is never a good strategy. The Senators learned this the hard way. Where was their discipline? These weren't ticky-tack calls; the hook by Regin was obvious, Winchester's elbow couldn't have been more obvious, and Campoli made a bad mistake. The icing on the Senators' failure-of-discipline cake was the Senators also taking two game misconducts in all of this. Jarkko Ruutu earned one as Winchester went to the box for thugging it out with Andrew Peters; and Chris Neil got one after the Campoli gaffe by intentionally knocking over David Clarkson after the whistle. So all that did was drive Ottawa to shorten the bench - something I'm sure Cory Clouston was happy to do after those calls.
Still, if the Senators' played smarter (and maybe did better on their power play, too - theirs was, well, not good) perhaps they come out of this with at least a point or even the win. They let it slip away.
The third lesson is that the Devils can hold their own in a one-goal game when the opposition turns it on regardless of circumstance. Tonight was a physical game, a game right after a close 2-1 win over the Islanders, and the Senators started getting desperate with 10 minutes left. Yet, they managed a whopping 4 shots on net in their more aggressive attacks on net. The defense was well positioned from them making killer pases and taking good shots; and from what few they had, Brodeur was in the right place to stop them stone dead. I would have like to have seen the Devils hit the Senators back on a counter attack; but too often the Senators at least forced enough play late in New Jersey's end to warrant a quick dump-and-change by the Devils. Not that it meant much because the Senators either had the puck in places where the Devils have no problem with them having the puck instead of getting the puck to places where they weren't.
Overall, both teams were quite defensive as the Devils only out shot the Senators 25-21; but it's real surprising that the Senators pulled their goalie for an extra skater and it added absolutely nothing to their attack. Well done Devils defense.
The fourth lesson is that a player can contribute even with limited minutes. Zach Parise had a much better night with a goal, an assist, and 4 shots on net in 22:36 of ice time. Jamie Langenbrunner had 3 shots and 2 assists, good work from the captain. But some of the "lesser" names stood out. Mark Fraser played 15:16 of fairly solid hockey, perhaps he's earning his minutes now. David Clarkson only got 11:52 of even strength time, but he got 6:22 on the power play, three shots, a goal, and 4 hits while looking good along side Matt Halischuk (12:36, 2 shots) and call-up Tim Sestito.
Speaking of, let me just focus on Sestito for a moment. He may have only played 8:53, but he looked real good in that 8:53 he played. He threw three hits, he got two take aways, he set up some of Clarkson's and Halischuk's shots, and he didn't waver at all throughout the game.
Maybe they weren't the best players, but they did something despite limited action.
The fifth lesson is that a team can always do better even if they are 8-0-0 on the road and won their last 5 games. The Devils need to stop giving up the first goal in some of these games. They would do well to set the tempo early and not have to dig deep every time for an equalizer. I'd also like to see the Devils' power play be more consistent. The units have earned goals in each of their last 3 games and perhaps that's a sign that it's getting there. Confidence on the PP should be higher; but the Devils really need to work on their breakouts and setting up on offense more often. Even if they don't score, the Devils will benefit from putting significant offensive pressure more often on the man advantage. And lastly, of course, I'd like the Devils' offense to be more productive so the Devils can take leads and add to them, as opposed to defending a one-goal lead late from a desperate opposition.
That said, the Devils' showed guts in pulling off another comeback win. The Devils will get 3 days off before hosting Anaheim on Wednesday. In terms of injuries, Bryce Salvador nearly was added to the list. He only played 10:26 tonight off of 16 shifts. Per Gulitti, it was an ankle injury - but Salvador said he'll be OK for Wednesday. Which is great because as the Devils get healthier, they can address these issues further and become an even better team. Something that should frighten opponents across the league, if you think about it.
At least I think you would if you did. I'm still trying to process what I just saw: the New Jersey Devils scored three power play goals to come from behind and win the game.